Saturday, November 25

"Firing into the Brown" #30 - Malta GC, Volunteer Reviews and a Sally Port

"So Carnehan weeds out the pick of his men, and sets the two of the Army to show them drill and at the end of two weeks the men can manoeuvre about as well as Volunteers. So he marches with the Chief to a great big plain on the top of a mountain, and the Chiefs men rushes into a village and takes it; we three Martinis firing into the brown of the enemy".

Kipling "The Man Who Would Be King"

Time for another update..

Just finished a very enjoyable 2nd circumnavigation of the "Harry Gilmour" series, which is a fictionalised account of the life of a young guy in the RNVR in WW2 serving in submarines (very much recommended by the way)..  for a couple of the books the submarine he's on is assigned to the near legendary 10th Submarine Flotilla [clicky], who were based at Malta. 

One of the books (David) Black the author quotes as a source for the stories he uses in the Harry Gilmour books was this one by James Holland - and on a whim while in town I spotted it  in Waterstone's while browsing, and bought it. 

SO pleased I did - the book is riveting and is my third "10 plus" of the year - it tells the story of the siege of Malta through the many eyes of both combatants (of both sides) and civilians engaged in the conflict. Nurses, pilots, soldiers, anti aircraft gunners, submariners, admin staff, entertainers, but also lots and lots of civilians having to live their lives in hellish conditions. 

The book is divided chronologically, and covers each of the phases of the siege (which in order very roughly were, being attacked by Italians, then the Germans, then left alone for a bit while the Germans were busy with Barbarossa, before being attacked heavily by the Germans again) and covers the air war, the vital importance of air cover for both defensive and offensive reasons, the submarines (of course), and the role of Malta not just as an island in the Mediterranean, but as the base for vital Allied operations against first, Rommel in Libya, and secondly when that campaign was won, the second front against Sicily. 

Absolutely wonderful - can't recommend it enough..  Steve the Wargamer rates this one as 10+


Little more on the Lines..  this is the Sally Port  (in blue on the map above), a 6-foot-wide (1.8 m) and 8-foot-high (2.4 m) tunnel built through the West centre curtain to act as a sally port ie. a protected entry or exit to the fortification, to save the garrison having to go the whole way round every time they needed to go to either front or rear of the Lines..

Those door hinges are serious pieces of ironmongery - the gates would have been significant. The tunnel has regular passing points built in to the sides.


Couple of fascinating contemporary prints featuring the Lines..  this time from the The Easter Monday Volunteer Review in 1868. 'Nother fascinating rabbit hole by the way, as I knew nothing about these annual events.. 

The Reviews were begun in 1861, and basically were a military exercise in how quickly volunteer troops (later these would be designated Territorial) could be concentrated in a single spot. Reviews were held in different venues, including Brighton, Dover, Guildford, Portsmouth, Tring, and Dunstable. Each “review” consisted of a march, a sham fight, and rifle shooting. 

"The Volunteer Review at Portsmouth: The First Hants Engineer Volunteers Constructing a Barrel-Pier Bridge for the Sortie at Hilsea Lines 1868" (c) Alamy

The Lines (albeit slightly stylised) can be seen in the background of the picture above, so this perspective would be from the north side of either the Creek, or more likely the moat, but in that slightly "epic" depiction the London Evening News was want to show!  😏

Picture following was from the same event, but this time taken from the Lines looking North and is a better depiction as you can see the separation between moat and creek, and up on the hill in the far distance one of the Palmerston Forts, built to negate the technological advances in artillery that had already rendered the Lines obsolete militarily by the time they'd been finished..

The Volunteer Review at Portsmouth, the Sortie from Hilsea Lines (engraving) by English School, (19th century); Illustration for The Illustrated London News, 25 April 1868.

Not an event where they just went through the motions..  these exercises were highly regarded. “The whole affair was regarded with importance as demonstrating the efficiency of the Volunteer force, which behaved itself admirably,” said Edward Farr in The History of England. 

The reviews were discontinued in 1878, largely because of the 1871 Bank Holidays Act, which gave the railroads enough civilian traffic on Easter Mondays to refuse to transport the Volunteers, who up to then travelled at a significant discount.

Fascinating, eh? 😀


 Laters, as the young people are want to say...


  1. I'm enjoying this series on the fortifications at Portsmouth. Thanks Steve.
    Never read any J.Holland, yet. Listen avidly to the WHW podcast though. Remember listening to the episodes about Malta a couple of Summers ago.

    1. Hi Nundanket - thanks for the kind words... the Holland book is stonking, he's swiftly becoming one of my go to historians, purely because of his focus on the personal, rather than the grand strategic...